Foresight Puts Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood Int'l at the Forefront of new FAA Survey Standards

Ronnie Garrett
Published in: 

It pays to think ahead, says Dan Bartholomew, airport planning manager for Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL) in Florida. In the case of impending land survey requirements, the payoff is estimated in the millions of dollars.

When Broward County's Aviation Department began planning a $1 billion expansion of FLL's south runway, officials decided it was also time to take a closer look at the Federal Aviation Administration's advisory circulars for accurate and consistent survey, subsurface utility engineering (SUE) and geographic information system (GIS) data. Bartholomew says they quickly saw the writing on the wall and realized the FAA would eventually mandate that all airports collect SUE and GIS data and submit their Airport Layout Plans (ALPs) to the FAA GIS database electronically. The Broward County Aviation Department consequently decided all survey data collected for the south runway project had to meet the standards presented in the FAA circulars (see Page 49).

As the first Florida airport to meet the new requirements, FLL was on the right track. The FAA recently announced federal funding may be jeopardized if airports fail to meet these standards. "Many airports will end up spending millions to capture this information because it's detailed and expensive to collect," says Bartholomew. "We were able to kill two birds with one stone, without any additional capital outlay."

Electronic Connections

Currently, airports completely update their ALPS about every five years. The plans include schematic overviews, aerial views, details about existing facilities and provide insight into changes expected over the next five to 20 years. When an airport makes any change, minor or major, officials submit hard-copy ALP updates to the FAA. The FAA Airports Geographic Information System (AGIS) now makes it possible for participating airports to update this information in near-real time, says Bartholomew.

Because the FAA system is fairly complex and requires very specific information, FLL had to set up an account within the FAA AGIS, notes Bartholomew. This account enables FLL officials to enter the system with a secure username and password and update the ALP electronically.

Only designated staff members can view or update the information to safeguard data accuracy. But the airport can provide limited access to surveyors, engineers, consultants and contractors to upload or download specific information. "These access rights can be added or removed as needed," says Bartholomew, noting that a cumulative log allows both the FAA and airport officials to review who entered the system and what information they accessed.

Data Facelift

FLL performed its own GIS work in-house and converted existing CAD and hardcopy files into an AGIS-compatible format. In addition, the Aviation Department instructed all contactors to provide collected data in a format that complies with FAA circulars. "This allowed us to spend minimal funds on building a GIS database, since we leveraged existing data collection efforts," says Bartholomew. "Information that normally would cost millions of dollars to obtain has been captured as part of ongoing projects at no extra cost."

While gathering and exacting considerable amounts of data may seem overwhelming, Bartholomew stresses that the new FAA standards do not alter the information airports already collect; they standardize the format the information is in.

"What has changed is how we present the data," emphasizes Mark Coon, northeast geospatial manager at Erdman Anthony, an aviation infrastructure engineering and support services firm. For instance, if an existing navigational aid is surveyed, specific photographs must be taken from set angles and uploaded into the airport's GIS website, which must utilize GIS software. All GIS files must follow specific naming functions, and every layer must contain specific line weights, colors and attributed data.

Previously, individual airports or land surveyors determined how the data was formatted. "Now there are very specific requirements," Coon says. "It's not that anything was done wrong in the past; now there are standardized ways to present the data."

"The goal is to ensure all airport information is collected using a structured, formalized methodology followed by a control process," adds Bartholomew. The standards ensure that safety-critical information is collected to create a seamless data set designed to:

1. reduce costs and redundancies,

2. make better/faster decisions, and

3. provide a foundation upon which to build the FAA Next Generation Air Transportation (NextGen) System.

FAA Stamp of Approval

The big change is the process airports must now follow to receive approval on proposed projects, says Coon. Whenever an airport proposes a project, it needs to electronically submit a project scope detailing what is planned, how and when it will be done, and the ways the airport plans to meet required standards. The FAA may approve these plans or return them for additional information. Once the plans are approved, the airport must then submit a statement of work (SOW) for the project. If the FAA approves this document, the airport can begin the project.

According to Bartholomew, the requirements help ensure that airports perform projects according to the plans submitted to the FAA and updates occur almost in real time.

"If an obstruction goes up five miles off a runway, personnel can submit this data to the FAA and add it to the ALP so that everyone else in the entire system knows about it and can plan for it," he says. "Ultimately, this will allow for a shift from an existing fragmented stockpile of aeronautical information to a single, seamless aeronautical information system (AIS) that is updated in near-real time."

Survey-Related Advisory Circulars

Three new FAA standards have been released in the form of FAA advisory circulars (ACs). The purpose behind the standards is to ensure that all airports are collecting the same critical information and using the same methods, within the same accuracy tolerances.

150/5300-16 Establishment of Geodetic Control - Provides guidance to surveyors and engineers to set primary and secondary airport control station control points in the area. These locations are evaluated, approved and added to the National Spatial Reference System (NSRS) as geodetic control tying the airport to the entire National Airspace System (NAS). This offers seamless geodetic control for navigation, obstacle avoidance and surface management.

150/5300-17 Guidance for Aeronautical Survey and Imagery Acquisition and Submission to the National Geodetic Survey (NGS) - Provides guidance and specifications for the capture of aerial photography at and around airports. This information is often used to identify obstructions near the airport that may pose a hazard to aircraft navigation or operation. Airports can use this information to mitigate these obstructions.

150/5300-18 Field Data Collection and Geographic Information Systems Standards - This AC builds upon the previous two by providing specifications for the collection and submission of geographic data. Data needs covered under this AC are seen as critical to operational safety or required to create an electronic airport layout plan.

-- Dan Bartholomew, airport planning manager, Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport

On the Same Page

The FLL interface puts the FAA one airport closer to standardizing information across the aviation industry, (one of the primary purposes of NextGen), and having all stakeholders working off the same reliable, geo-referenced information.

A standardized and accessible data set will allow for safer and efficient planning, says Bartholomew. He cites the following example to illustrate his point: If the National Flight Procedures Group seeks to develop a safe and efficient instrument flight procedure to guide a pilot to/from an airport, it requires information about the availability, location and type of navigational aids; any hazardous obstructions in the flight path; accurate 5010 data regarding the type of infrastructure available at the airport (approach lighting, runway marking, runway length/width); and any existing NOTAMs (notices to airmen). Once the procedure is implemented, it is published and provided to Air Traffic Control for pilots and airlines to follow and programmed into aircraft flight computers. "If any piece of information were inaccurate, the entire procedure, hence safety, could be in question," says Bartholomew. "A single GIS database utilized by all entities from which to base decisions is ideal since all information is tied to locations on (or above) the earth, ensuring information is relative and tied together spatially."

Access to accurate, real-time data can ultimately reduce an airport's liability if a problem occurs, adds Bartholomew. "Everything is updated on an ongoing basis as opposed to an ad hoc basis. It's better data. It's more accurate data," he explains.

Into the Future

FLL has big plans for its new GIS tool. Because the airport has continual access to information in the FAA database, it can link a variety of business and operational software applications to AGIS. According to Bartholomew, Broward County Aviation Department is preparing to link PropWorks, its airport property and leasehold management system, to GIS data.

The link will allow airport officials to take a closer look at terminal building and lease holding space. They can quickly determine who holds a lease at specific locations; the requirements of that lease, such as who is responsible for maintaining the floor; where its defibrillators or life safety tools are located; etc. "It becomes a facility management, safety and business management tool," he says. "These things are not addressed in the advisory circulars because the FAA is primarily interested in airfield and airspace environments, but we've taken the system inside as well."

Within the next year, FLL also plans to link the system with the airport's computerized maintenance management system (CMMS). There will be costs: GPS receivers and laptops for field inspection vehicles as well as consulting services to help build a web-based input for reports such as i-AIR (an airfield GIS-GPS integrated Part 139 self-inspection module). But Bartholomew expects the results to be well worth the investment.

"It's something that will be very handy to have when we are in the runway construction phase," he explains. "We will have closures of taxiways, obstacles and so on during this project. As airfield inspections occur, technicians will be able to issue reports and work orders directly from their vehicles."

The airport GIS will provide a foundation upon which work orders are reported and tracked. For instance, if an airfield inspector notices a taxiway light is not working, the combination of a GIS map of airfield lights and the vehicle's GPS location will identify the light needing repair. The inspector can then fill out a web-based work order request to repair the light and submit it remotely to the airport's CMMS system. The system will generate a report showing the location of the light, a part list, the warehouse location for replacements and e-mail the information to an available maintenance technician. Once the repair is completed, the maintenance technician can e-mail a completion report back to the airfield inspector, who can then check the repair and submit a final inspection report. "What would normally take many hours and countless trips will be able to be completed within a single hour," Bartholomew says.

Electronically tracking inspections and work orders can help tremendously when airports undergo annual FAA airfield audits, which include items such as whether lights are working properly or pavement is being maintained, relates Tim Neubert of Neubert Aero Corp. FLL uses Neubert's i-AIR to electronically file its airfield inspections and work orders.

"The authorities will say 'I see you have a work order that was generated three months ago; I'd like to see that work order and the corrective action,' " he relates. "In the early days, you'd have to sift through mounds of paper to find that form. Now, you can pull up a list of open and closed work orders, identify the one you need, and show corrective action almost immediately, without leaving your desk."

Enabling field inspection technicians to tap into GIS data and file reports electronically creates an electronic trail that can reduce an airport's liability, adds Neubert. "Papers are traditionally lost, and often changes to documents took place after the fact," he says. "Electronically filing this information, which is date and time stamped, reduces an airport's risk and liability by allowing greater accountability in reporting."

Airports can enjoy many benefits by entering the FAA's AGIS, says Bartholomew. "We are heading toward a web-based, near-real time overview of what's happening in the airfield, in the terminal and what projects are planned for the future," he says. "The sky's the limit on the applications with GIS as the backbone."


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